Travels in Europe: Journal Writing


P9170278.JPGThis is the fourth in a series of posts about how travel, reading, writing and communicating intersected during my five month European backpacking trip.

To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries, to lose a notebook was a catastrophe.

— Bruce Chatwin

The very thought makes me cringe.

I can’t imagine losing a travel journal, or any journal at all for that matter, but I’m sure some of you Written Roadies have stories of lost (and hopefully found) diaries. I guess in this age of blogging there are some travelers who don’t worry at all about losing their tales if everything is posted online. But most writers I know never go anywhere without notebook and pen in hand.

For someone who wrote over 800 pages in her journals while roaming around Europe, it’s funny that I’m not sure where to begin on this topic. I guess I’ll just share a little about what I used while writing on the road, and then point you to a few things about journaling that I’ve come across recently.

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My five months in Europe resulted in five full journals shown above. Maybe one of these is right for your next journey:

1) An indispensable Rite in the Rain all-weather journal given to me by a blogger pal. I used it to keep track of expenses. (I’ve yet to tally my final costs, but the data is all there for when I finally get motivated to do some math.)

2) The 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Traveler’s Journal, also from a friend, contains inspirational quotes throughout and a checklist of places organized by country at the back.

3) A birthday gift purchased at Il Papiro in Florence, I used it for the last two weeks of my trip and then for a collection of highlights and “favorites” culled from the other journals. I also compiled a special list of my most treasured gifts: the people I encountered and where/when we crossed paths.

4) My very first Moleskine. Now I get it. These days you can find me lurking at Moleskinerie. But my current budget won’t allow a habit to develop just yet. (It’s only a matter of time.)

5) The largest journal was a gift from my brother which I started using exactly one month before I departed. I was glad to have those pre-trip pages with me farther into my travels. Some will say this hard-bound book is far too cumbersome for a travel journal, but it actually came in handy as a mini-table used to lean on when writing postcards or for impromptu picnics in the park. (No clue on the manufacturer of this particular style.)

After the people I met and the experiences I had, these books remain the most precious gems of my journey. My words hold the essence of my travels, and when I can’t recall the kind face of my host Luisa or picture that fantastic meal we had in Matera, I clutch my journal, curl up on the couch and thank goodness that I took the time to write it all down. (Sometimes finding the perfect pen to use was a monumental challenge, but that’s a whole other post for another time…)

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Just as I go ga ga for books and bookstores, this intensive writing phase has now left my mouth watering over journals too. Recently I’ve admired Solbeam’s photos of her journals (as well as her writing) and I learned some good note-taking tips after reading Joshua Berman’s books behind the blog.

Note-taking methodology is a good point to end on, because as travel writers, all this journaling is not only good for our souls, it is a key ingredient to producing quality stories, essays, memoirs and guidebooks. While traveling, I wrote almost every single day, or jotted notes on scraps of paper to remember things when there was no time to break out the book. How about you? I’ll return to this topic again next week and will eventually share some personal successes and struggles with the task of transforming journal notes into travel tales. But for now, if you have any journal stories, tips or links to great journal photos, please feed my latest obsession in the comments below 🙂